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Monday, March 5, 2018

The Elder Scrolls Online - Weeks 3 & 4: Building a Better Themepark - MMOMG


Welcome to my first installment of MMOMG - Text Edition! As mentioned in an earlier post, I'm reducing the number of episodic videos uploaded to my YouTube channel to focus on streaming and other projects. As a result, MMOMG is being converted to (hopefully) weekly write-ups available here on my blog. Now on to the content!

My month in The Elder Scrolls Online has come to an end and there's a lot to cover (crafting, questing and even a bit of PVP) before getting to my summary, so let's jump right in!

Dungeons & Dullness

Somewhere between the second and third week, I was tasked with completing a dungeon to unlock the Undaunted skill line. Being that I wanted to experience more dungeons anyway, this gave me the perfect excuse to queue up at least once a day. At first I was excited to see instances and fight bosses, but the appeal faded pretty fast. The variety of dungeons in the queue seems small (at least while leveling), as I just kept seeing the same three instances over and over. Additionally, random dungeons aren't difficult - about half the groups I joined sped through them, with bosses being nothing but damage sponges that periodically toss AOEs. Dungeons seem like a decent source of XP and loot however, which is likely incentive enough to participate at least daily.

Writing & Story

As my excitement for dungeons waned, I returned to questing through the island of Stros M'kai. Completing every quest I could find there, my viewers suggested I join them in Rivenspire. There, I was treated to an exceptionally written questline involving a crumbling monarchy, vampires and an ancient artifact. In fact, it may have been TOO well written, as one of the main antagonists were portrayed as this mysterious, formidible enemy that folded like a cheap suit once given the opportunity to fight him face to face.

As the month came to a close, I finally got around to working on the main quest, and I wasn't disappointed! The writing was excellent and featured some wonderful voice work. In addition, I found some of the elite encounters rather challenging, as they killed me several times until I paid better attention to combat. Since the game up until then had pretty much been a faceroll, I found the increase in difficulty quite the welcome surprise.

Difficulty Curve?

Speaking of difficulty, I teamed up with a couple viewers to tackle some of Craglorn's content, and noticed a rather odd difficulty curve. The majority of storyline quests here can be done with a small group or even solo, but the remaining content requires defeating world bosses, needing considerably more people. In a way, Craglorn embodies the major issue I have with ESO in general - in that its difficulty tends to be peaks and valleys rather than a steady climb with several steps. This is a common problem in a number of MMOs though, and could be easily remedied if they gradually raised difficulty, requiring players to group up more as they got closer to end game.

Tradeskills

Throughout the month, I made an honest effort to raise tradeskills with the time I had, but it wasn't easy. Having had a free subscriber week during my month, I can really appreciate the amount of storage offered by the crafting bag. Without it, leveling more than 2 or 3 tradeskills at a time is virtually impossible. There's just way too many crafting materials for a non-subscriber to realistically work on every tradeskill at once. I eventually decided to focus on provisioning and enchanting, as food ingredients seem fairly plentiful and runestones are easy to spot. These particular tradeskills are also very straightforward, and in hindsight I regret not focusing on a skill that produces weapons and armor. These types of trades have several more options, such as deconstruction, trait research, cosmetic styles, and item improvement, making them a bit deeper than your typical crafting professions found in other MMOs. I understand that crafted items are actually relevant at endgame, which is always great to hear. I do have one crafting-related complaint: You can't see recipes unless you're at the proper crafting station, which really seems like an oversight that never got addressed.

No Auction House?

Likewise, Elder Scrolls Online lacks a truly open market when it comes to buying and selling with other players. Instead of a universal marketplace or auction house accessible to all players, stalls are individually run by guilds in major cities. Anyone can purchase from these stalls, but only the owning guild can put items up for sale. Players can always use chat to trade with others, but that's obviously more of a hassle than it really should be. The choice of guild-run stalls over a universal marketplace seems like an odd one that I can't quite comprehend.

A Plethora of PvP Options

Though I find a couple of ESO's decisions questionable, I'm quite impressed with their implementation of faction-based PvP in Cyrodil. This massive zone contains dozens of features - including capturable fortifications and outposts, towns, dark anchors, bosses, delves, dungeons, mundus stones and skyshards, as well as both PvE and PvP quests. Additionally, players can learn to use siege weapons both offensively and defensively in massive battles. It's hard to express how truly large and impressive this zone is, but it somewhat reminds me of WoW's Wintergrasp or Tol Barad (with a splash of Warhammer Online siege warfare) done way bigger, way better, and with something to do at all times.

If you're more of a battleground PvPer, ESO's still got you covered. The game features 4v4v4 battle on a handful of maps with a randomly chosen objective. Sometimes you'll capture and hold specific locations, other times you're trying to obtain and keep a chaosball as long as possible. As with most battlegrounds in MMOs, you're going to find more people and faster queues on the weekends.

Player Housing

Before I wrap this up, I want to briefly mention that ESO also has a robust player housing system. Housing plots contain pre-built structures that allow you to freely place furnishings and decorations just about any way you wish. Houses range from a tiny room at the inn all the way to grand villas and multi-structure fortresses, depending on price. Expect to sink a large amount of gold or be willing to hit the cash shop for purchasing real estate, though.

My Progress

So, having spent just shy of 100 hours in the game over the course of a month and getting my warden to only level 37 (with my focused tradeskills ending up somewhere in the mid teens), I can't comment on what endgame is like. I do have a number of thoughts on the game thus far though, so let's get to it!

SUMMARY


Pros


The skill system is flexible, allowing for characters to take on any role regardless of class. A limited skill bar means you'll have to decide what to focus on. A minimal UI as well as excellent voice work really help the immersion, and quests in general are well-written. Due to skyshards being a large source of skill points, exploration and world questing are emphasized.

Cons


Even though some quests ask you to make a decision, there's no real consequence for your actions. Due to the sheer number of items, you'll be juggling inventory constantly as a free player should you try to level more than two tradeskills at a time. Finally, initially installing the game through Steam was such a nightmare for me I almost didn't play it at all... or even have a working computer for that matter! Hopefully, my results aren't typical, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Other


If you're into world PvP, Cyrodil should keep you fairly occupied as its absolutely massive and has lots to explore and capture. Level scaling across the entire game gives players freedom to explore, but the generally low difficulty means content often feels trivial.

Just after my month of play ended, ESO rolled out the Dragon Bones DLC and update 17. The DLC offers two new dungeons and new gear sets, while the update adds two new battlegrounds, new houses and decorations, and the ability to change the style of your gear via Outfit stations (which replace Dye stations). Several large changes were also made to PvP, including a buff to AOE effects and a change in how addons relay information. What this means is that the developers are actively working on the game, taking in player feedback as well as relying on data to keep improving it.

Overall Impression - A Better Themepark MMO

Unlike many developers that mistakenly thought copying World of Warcraft would somehow give them the same success, it's obvious that ESO set out to actually improve upon what WoW had already done. To this end, I think they succeeded. Elder Scrolls Online allows for casual or more dedicated styles of play, even offering PvP to have some effect on the world without centering the entire game on it. Due to the importance of gaining skill points via skyshards and world quests, exploration and questing are still relevant despite the game having dungeon queues. The flexibility of the skill system allows you to build synergies instead of being hampered by class restrictions. The fact that WoW itself recently introduced level scaling is perhaps a bit telling that ESO just might be on to something here. (Note that ESO didn't invent level scaling by any means, but they do use it very effectively.)

Anyway, that's it for my month in The Elder Scrolls Online. I'm moving on to Neverwinter this month (March), as Tale of Toast's servers currently aren't reliable enough for lengthy streams. Join me live, Sundays - Wednesdays starting 9pm ET on Twitch, YouTube, Mixer or Smashcast.

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